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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Julian Schnabel

Julian Schnabel--the artist and his broken crockery art seem to match.
Julian Schnabel Self-portraits,
2004 (left) and 1987 (inset).
I have long claimed that for an artist to succeed in today's art world, he or she needs to find a way to stand apart and well above the mass of thousands of others all trying to do the same. Some might term this aspect of the artist and his work a "gimmick." I suppose, if you want to be cynical about it, that description fits; but it also fits the phrase, "creative risk." Others might call it "thinking outside the box," though that phrase, we might say, has seen it's better days. Beyond creativity which involves daring and risk taking, there's a second element so closely tied to the first that they become virtually one and the same--a creative persona. I can't put my finger on just when this became such an important element in artists' climb to prominence, but it has certainly been a factor for at least the past hundred years, perhaps beginning with Picasso, but possibly going back long before that. Today's rarified gallery system demands it and the digital 24/7 media world today, constantly in need of fresh content, is more than willing to oblige. The work and the persona of the American Neo-expressionist painter, Julian Schnabel perfectly fits this model. Seeing either his work, or the artist himself (above), is impressive. Seeing them together is indelible.

Julian Schnabel--painted plates and silk pajamas--both he and his work stand apart.

Untitled, 1983, Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel has his roots in New York--Brooklyn--where he was born in 1951. His mother was Jewish, his father was not. When Julian was quite young, the family moved to Brownsville, Texas, about as far removed from Brooklyn imaginable in a social context. Julian took up art and surfing, eventually collecting a B.F.A. from the University of Houston. Upon graduation, Schnabel applied to the Independent Study Program (ISP) at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. His application included slides of his work sandwiched between two slices of bread, causing his application to stand apart from the others (good packing material too, when you think about it). He was admitted to the program. To support himself, Schnabel worked as a short-order cook at a nightclub. His first break came in 1975, not in New York, but back in Houston where Schnabel had his first solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum.

A Julian Schnabel plate painting. At first glance, especially
reduced in scale, the plates appear to be Expressionist brushstrokes.
However, exposure "back home" also led to success in New York four years later with a show at the Mary Boone Gallery and participation in the Venice Biennale the following year. In 1981, international Italian-American art dealer, Leo Castelli and Mary Boone teamed up to present his work on both continents. And what was it about Schnabel's paintings that made them stand apart from those of all the others? Broken plates (top) which served as a giant textural base for his painted works (mostly portraits, above, left). In person, Schnabel is just as conventional. His attire--mismatched shirt and baggy shorts--screams out "I don't march to the usual drummer." The same can be said of his work. Each piece cries out to be examined closely. New elements are found from each angle. Using paint, photos, and materials varying wildly from his trademark plates to an odd rug (they must weigh a ton). Schnabel painting is as unique as his personal quirks and over-the-top personality: "I'm the closest thing to Picasso that you'll see in this f-----g life."

Julian Schnabel's house, Palazzo Chupi, New York City, standing apart from the crowd.
Every successful artist has a larger than life ego. And in Schnabel's case, the only thing more prominent (and to some, offensive) than his ego is his New York home at 360 West 11th Street, in a former West Village horse stable. Converted for residential use, Schnabel added five luxury condominiums in a Northern Italian style to his palazzo. He calls it the "Palazzo Chupi" (above, named for his second wife). Like it's owner, Schnabel's home stands out from the crowd in more ways than it's size. It's painted a very hot pink. The building is controversial in its Greenwich Village neighborhood because Schnabel built it taller than its neighbors, beating by just days the advent of new zoning restrictions. His neighbors hated it and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation called for stricter zoning enforcement, but Schnabel's home eventually rose to 167 feet in height, defying the 75-foot limit imposed by new zoning restrictions.

There's only so much you can do creatively with paint (even on broken plates or tall buildings). Starting in 1996, Schnabel decided to make (and finance) his own movies. His first, Basquiat, was a biographical film based on the life of graffiti painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat. It was modestly successful, raking in some $3-million at the box office. The film's cast included David Bowie (as Andy Warhol), Dennis Hopper, Tatum O'Neal, Courtney Love, Christopher Walken, and Willem Defoe. Schnabel's second film, Before Night Falls (with Johnny Depp and Sean Penn), released in 2000, earned $8.5-million while his third undertaking, (and his best) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (left), from 2006, brought home several awards and a hefty $19.7-million. The film told the story of a paraplegic who could only communicate with the outside world through the blinking of one eyelid.

Large Girl with No Eyes, 2001,
Julian Schnabel
David and Goliath, 2013,
Julian Schnabel
Not all of Schnabel's work involves painting on broken china. He also paints on canvas as seen in his 2001 Girl with No Eyes (above, left), and his wildly expressionist David and Goliath (above, right) from 2013. Let it also be known that Julian Schnabel paints buildings too, such as the Brickell Flatiron building in Miami. The building's single most distinctive feature (aside from its triangular shape) is an extensive and very public hosting of Schnabel's exterior, abstract murals (below). Besides having filled the interior with his art, Schnabel has modeled the outside after his famous (or infamous) home in New York (yes, it's pink too). It’s Miami’s own miniature Palazzo Chupi, and a singular art installation in itself—Miami’s first “museum-quality” condominium sales center. And if that weren't enough, the owners sponsored an actual museum exhibition of Schnabel’s work, at Fort Lauderdale’s NSU Museum of Art.

Julian Schnabel, hoses off the water-based red paint he applied to the Brickell Flatiron Sales and Design Gallery, allowing it to drip and drain over his broken tiles.
Lazy Afternoon, 2013, Julian Schnabel



  1. Jon--

    The artist doesn't claim to be another Picasso (spelled with two "esses") only that he's the "...closest thing you'll see to Picasso in this lifetime." Whether such a claim is true or not, there's a big difference in your assertion (with which I don't necessarily disagree) and what the artist said.

  2. More like picasshole if you ask me.